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Pertussis

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. It is also called whooping cough. Your air passages get plugged with thick mucus, which causes coughing spells. Pertussis is usually less serious in adults and most serious in babies and young children.

What causes pertussis?

Pertussis is caused by bacteria. It is easily spread in the air when someone with pertussis coughs or sneezes.

What are the signs and symptoms of pertussis?

It may take 3 to 21 days to get pertussis after you come in contact with the bacteria. This time is called the incubation period. Pertussis begins like a cold. After you cough and you take a breath, you may make a whooping noise. You may also cough up thick mucus after a coughing spell. You may cough for several weeks or months after you begin to feel better. You may also have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Red or watery eyes

  • Sneezing and a runny, stuffy nose

  • A cough that may worsen after 7 to 14 days

  • Fever or sweating

  • No interest in eating or drinking

  • Fatigue, often after a coughing spell

  • Vomiting because of the coughing

How is pertussis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam and listen to your lungs. He will ask about your symptoms and how long you have felt sick. He may ask if you have other health conditions. Tell your healthcare provider if you have been around anyone who has pertussis. He may order the following tests to find the cause of your symptoms:

  • Blood tests will help your healthcare provider find out if you have an infection.

  • A nasal swab is a test that may help your healthcare provider learn which type of germ is causing your illness. It is done by placing a cotton swab into your nose to collect a sample of nasal mucus.

  • A chest x-ray may be done to look for signs of infection, such as pneumonia.

How is pertussis treated?

  • Self-care:

    • Stay hydrated. Drink small amounts of liquid every hour when awake. This will help prevent you from becoming dehydrated. Good liquids for most people to drink are water, some fruit juices, and decaffeinated sports drinks. Limit the amount of caffeine you have. Read food and drink labels to learn if they contain caffeine.

    • Eat healthy foods. Eat a variety of healthy foods including fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy products, meat, and fish. Healthy foods may help you feel better, have more energy, and get better faster. If you are not hungry, eat smaller amounts more often.

    • Rest as much as possible until you begin to feel better.

    • Use a humidifier. Fill a cool mist humidifier with cool water and put it by your bed. The humidifier will help loosen the mucus in your throat. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about how to use a humidifier safely.

    • Avoid smoke. Do not smoke or be around anyone who smokes. Stay away from wood-burning stoves or fireplaces. Your breathing and coughing may get worse if you are near smoke.

  • Medicines:

    • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's doctor.

    • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

    • Antibiotics help treat or prevent a bacterial infection.

How can pertussis be prevented?

  • Tdap vaccine: This vaccine is a booster shot used to help prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) in older children and adults. This booster vaccine is given only once to adolescents (11 years of age or older) who have been vaccinated for it before. It is also given only once to adults who have been vaccinated for it before or who do not know if they have had it before. Pregnant women are given the booster at 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.

  • Prevent the spread of pertussis. If you have had contact with someone who has pertussis, stay away from others. If you have signs or symptoms of pertussis, stay away from others. Do not return to work until your healthcare provider says it is okay. Ask your healthcare provider if you or family members need to receive antibiotic medicine or a booster shot.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.

  • You are not drinking liquids.

  • Your cough is getting worse.

  • You are vomiting and cannot keep anything down.

  • You are not sleeping or resting because of the cough.

  • You have the following signs and symptoms of dehydration:

    • Headache, dizziness, or confusion

    • Dry mouth or tongue, or increased thirst

    • Urinating little or not at all

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have trouble breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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